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Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden

Slam with the best, or jam with the rest.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Physicists got it wrong. Atoms, electrons, quarks - all that stuff is basically sound, but the theory goes further. Much further. In actual fact, the most fundamental particle in our universe is...the basketball (or 'b-ball'). Every material on earth is, at the initial level, constructed from b-balls. Carbon is b-balls. The blood flowing through our b-ball veins is made of b-balls. Every star in our cosmos is b-ball in origin. Understand this, and you may begin to understand Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden.

Actually, a passing knowledge of RPGs (especially of the melodramatic Japanese variety) will help too - but mostly the b-ball thing. Focus on the b-balls. You may still be a little confused and wondering if this BSUJG business (what, you think I'm going to write that out every time?) is really worth your time. Don't worry: it is.

Warning: This Game Is Canon

Although it's only February, the chances of a funnier game bring released this year seem tremendously slim. Let's get one thing clear from the outset though: BSUJG is not a 'joke' game as such. Nor does BSUJG deserve to be patronised with the kind of fawning, irony-drenched praise beloved of those who might dub Timmy Mallett or Chuck Norris 'a legend'. No, BSUJG is a fully-fledged freeware RPG in the Chrono Trigger mould, with a rich background and storyline. It just also happens to be funny as hell.

Jordan's always on your case.

Few, if any, JRPG clichés and conventions are left unscathed. Protagonist (and former NBA star) Charles Barkley is a haunted, troubled man with a dark past, but a noble heart. He lives in the future dystopia of Neo New York - a fearsome place where basketball has been abolished and most of his friends slain - trying, as best he can, to make a life for himself and his son Hoopz. Only the semi-encyclopaedic guidance of Balthios, the quasi-spiritual elder, will enable Charles to make sense of this godforsaken mess - but first he must dodge the authoritarian intentions of Michael Jordan, who believes Barkley to be responsible for the civilisation-wrecking Chaos Dunk. Cast as the tragic fallen warrior who's sold out to The Man, Jordan is all set to be the one fan-fiction writers attempt to redeem in a flurry of poor penmanship.


The jibes don't end with the subversion of archetypal characters. Each line of dialogue has been written with earnest, deadpan seriousness - in direct contrast to the ridiculousness of the situations encountered. It is, without exception, magnificent dialogue. Over-explaining great jokes is the quickest way to kill them and it would be remiss of me to leave a trail of explicit spoilers all over the place, so I shall refrain. Suffice to say, throughout Barkley's adventures he explores the Ancient Egyptian-style tombs of former ballers, begrudgingly agrees to help write some poetry for a lovelorn chap who's had plastic surgery to look like a snail and battles the alarming (but misunderstood) Ghost Dad.

The future is a gloomy place indeed.

Speaking of battles, they're awfully good too. Continuing the theme, they're presented in a Final Fantasy fashion, with Barkley's party and whichever adversaries they've blundered into on the exploration map facing off against each other. At which point it's time to lay some slams and jams on those dastardly foes. This happens in the traditional way, but with a variety of...unconventional moves and skills (or special items) available from the selection menus. Barkley himself launches b-ball attacks (well, obviously) and has a number of special skills like 'Showboat Jam' and 'Vampslam' which are more powerful but also eat up the game's equivalent of Mana. Alongside our hero, Balthios knows the secret of the mystic zaubers - elemental magics which confuse and baffle the enemy; while other characters can fight with lasers or even deadly gun's (intentional apostrophe misuse is something a player needs to get used to). Every advantage is needed when fighting horrible enemies such as Dread Refs, Ball Spiders and... err...gigantic walking whistles which inflate themselves up and fire off a devastating 'peep!' Especially as certain opponents also possess the ability to afflict your heroes with debilitating problems like glaucoma and Asperger's.

Look, I'm not making any of this up. It really happens.